First Folio

JJ Gatesman as Edmond in King Lear. Photo by iNDie Grant Productions.

Unrehearsed Shakespeare shows use the first folio for two important reasons. First: there’s no danger of paying royalties. Second: it allows each individual actor to interpret the lines without being filtered through an intermediary. Later editions tend to take a lot of liberties with punctuation, spelling, words, and will sometimes change lines, insisting that Shakespeare clearly did not mean what he wrote.

Here are some interesting challenges that come with the First Folio, allowing actors to make their own choices to overcome them.

1. Full stops are rare in the First Folio. There are many commas, semi-colons, colons, and even dashes, but periods and question marks are just not all that common. This challenges the actor to keep the sentence moving quickly and dynamically. This creates performances that are more energized and a whole lot faster. And everyone appreciates a speedy Shakespeare show.

2. Along those same lines, exclamation points are virtually non-existent in the First Folio. There are rarely more than three or four in any play. So while most lines are fast, energized, and physically dynamic, those rare exclamation points allow an actor to explode with larger than life passion.

Nathan Ducker, Bill Daniel, and Kyle Cassady as Sir Andrew, Feste, and Sir Toby in Twelfth Night. Photo by iNDie Grant Productions

3. For whatever reason, the First Folio can feature a single word spelled several different ways in the same play. An actor can choose to express the word differently depending on how it’s spelled. Likewise, the amorphous nature of some words (O, that this too too [solid/sullied/sallied/sallowed] flesh, would melt,) allows the actor and/or audience to interpret the sentence in the manner that resonates the most with them, rather than how some scholar insists it should be interpreted.

4. This is the best way to get as close as possible to Shakespeare’s shows. Although we can never know for sure how accurate the First Folio is, we can be sure that has been filtered through as few extra fingers as possible. This is as close to Shakespeare as we can get.

The Basics
Audience & Venues
First Folio

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